Old Macau by Foot

A walking tour helps visitors discover the charm of this unique city

By: Gary Bowerman

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The Largo do Senado is the heart of old Macau.
Macau’s casino-driven economy is making global headlines. Last year, it raked in more revenues than Las Vegas, and several new mega-gaming palaces are being built. The conjoining of two islands, Coloane and Taipa, has created the Cotai Strip which is being developed by Sheldon Adelson’s Sands organization as the former Portuguese colony’s answer to the Las Vegas strip.

But head inland, away from the neon signs and baccarat tables, and you’ll find a different Macau where Portuguese and Chinese historical influences coexist. Macau’s historic center neatly blends Portuguese colonial architecture with the sounds, smells and buzz of southern China.

In July 2005, this area was designated as China’s 31st UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sloping cobbled streets are redolent of Lisbon or Porto, but with the language and culture of Guangzhou. Bilingual street signs are inked onto blue and white Portuguese tiles, and are flanked by eye-catching churches, theatres, temples, municipal buildings and sections of the old city walls.

Take to the Streets
Begin your walk at the Leal Senado building on Av. Almeida Ribeiro. Built in 1784 as Macau’s municipal headquarters, this neo-classical gem features a large courtyard garden, a charming library and an arched lobby decorated with blue and white Portuguese azulejo tiles. The front of the building opens out onto Largo do Senado, the heartbeat of downtown Macau. This classic Portuguese-style plaza is decorated with colonnaded three-floored buildings in different pastel shades, and several market streets lead off in all directions. Snap a few photos here, before turning right after McDonald’s and follow the gentle slope to Cafe Ou Mun, a delightful Portuguese cafe serving fresh coffee, sweet custard tarts and coconut bread.

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The Church of Santo Domingo dates back to 1587.
Back on Largo do Senado, sneak a quick peak inside the fabulous lemon-colored Church of Santo Domingo, built in 1587, before heading east along Rua Sto. Domingos. On the right-hand side (No. 18-20) is Livraria Portuguesa, an old-fashioned bookstore selling history books, souvenirs and English- and Portuguese-language newspapers. A little farther along is the once-grand Teatro Capitol; now home to vendors selling fresh juices and made-to-order pancakes fillings range from Japanese squid with seaweed to peanut butter. Continue ahead to the grand mustard-colored Portuguese Consulate, which sits behind large gates and perfectly manicured lawns.

Now wend your way north to the ruins of Sao Paolo church. Built in 1602, it was once described as the finest church east of the Americas, but was destroyed by fire in 1835. Climb the steps to the right toward Monte Fort, replete with sturdy fortifications and sea-facing cannons. The upper ramparts afford fine views over Macau and across the narrow dividing channel to the city of Zhuhai in mainland China. Inside the fort is the fascinating Museu de Macau, which traces the city’s history. Look out for sections explaining its once-famous fireworks industry; a favorite local pastime: cricket fighting; and the 1999 hand-over from Portugal to China.

Head back down the steps and south along Rua dos Mercadores, a street full of Cantonese flavor with several Chinese furniture stores and noodle stalls. At the junction with Travessa do Sonario, look out for the delightful Ho Hon Kee Dessert kiosk, which has been serving up sweet local delicacies like black sesame soup and walnut soup for 40 years. Nearby are several traditional Chinese pharmacies with unidentifiable medicinal products stored in large jars. Just along from Ho Hon Kee is the time-warped Farmacia Chinesa Man Cheong Tong (No. 44 Rua dos Mercadores) look carefully for the ancient counter-top abacus, used as a calculator. A few doors down is Companhia de Mariscos Secos San Chiong Bon (No. 74) which merits a photo even if you may not wish to buy any of the multiple varieties of dried fish on sale.

At the bottom of Mercadores, skip across Av. Almeida Ribeiro and head for Rua da Felicidade (Happiness Street) behind the old port. Bright red doorways and shuttered windows identify once-raucous hostelries where visiting sailors would seek out after-dark entertainment. Today, it’s a quiet street, though the shadows of yesteryear mysteriously linger in the air around dusk.

At the bottom of Felicidade, turn right along Travessa do Mastro where local bakers serve up bamboo trays of fresh almond cookies and mix warm sesame paste with peanuts to make a sweet dessert. This will serve as an appropriate final bite in a true taste of Old Macau.


Macau Government Tourist Office

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